“Be Your True Self!” Say Loveable Shows in NYMF, Like Backbeard and Happily

By ROB LESTER**** What better message for a musical than, “Find and be your true self, despite pressures to be a clone, and you’ll be a happier true you.” Backbeard and Happily don’t have lyrics saying those exact words, but the musicals share that philosophy and it’s the lesson its characters learn and the realization shared with colleagues is their positive game-changer.

Now, unhappily, Happily has its last two of its three performances today (Thursday, August 4) and, technically categorized as a concert-style presentation —although the nimble and immensely appealing cast members are off book and on their feet and on the ball— so it is not seeking regular reviews just yet.  But, having read its script and previewing some songs, then seeing its opening last night, and hearing cheers and laughter from the audience, I can report that it certainly seems that —especially as the plucky plot thickened, viewers were happily involved and responsive.  The Sean P. Pallatroni/ Livi Perrone songs soared, the well-written, well-delivered zingers from Livi Perrone’s script, and some on-the-money facial expressions and reactions by the company brought home the humor and heart. Rachel Klein’s direction took the show in directions both LOL and lovely, with the essential message coming through clearly and sincerely.  That is, we “get” the brewing dissatisfaction with conformity and blindly following a path of one’s supposed destiny isn’t the only way to go. “Way to go!” is what I’d say to the characters —high-schoolers in a fairy-tale kingdom schooled to fill age-old roles of heterosexual prince/princess pairings or male-only knights (brave, but “without the leadership skills”).  And “true love’s kiss” can be an eye-opener—and not just for Sleeping Beauty in another story.  Happily is snappily proceeding today at 3 PM and 7 PM at the Green Room space (often a cabaret) in the Yotel Hotel on Tenth Avenue between West 41 and West 42 Street.  See our related “Pick” article.

………………………..Meanwhile, back on the pirate ship….

Backbeard is a kid-friendly, rollicking musical about pirates and townspeople the titular captain meets when he is ex-communicated from the group for his own non-conformity.  (It seems it’s against the rules for pirates to wear bright colors, and after one or two rip-roaring songs, a rip in his pants reveals taboo bright colors in his underwear).  The 70-minute romp is spirited and wacky.  It also revels in its kid-targeted gross humor factor, seeking laughs from comments about pirates burping, proudly smelling due to bathing only once in a blue moon, and wearing clothes with vomit on them (one song’s lyric rhymingly suggests wearing a scarf to cover up the barf).  It’s all in good fun, and much fun was had by the quite full crowd (overwhelmingly adults, semi-surprisingly) on its second performance in the late afternoon on Thursday.  Seen at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row, 410 West 42 Street, there are three more daytime performances: August 5 at 10:30 and 1:30 and then Saturday the 6th at 1 PM.  “Did you ever see anything so ridiculous?” asks a character during the story.  “No!” replied one of the few kids in the crowd, not schooled in the science of rhetorical questions.  It was a sweet and refreshing moment.  The tirelessly peppy cast, very well-drilled-in-movement/choreography (Michael Whitney) jumped, danced, strutted, trotted, marched, and grinned.  When Backbeard (the rambunctious and effective, but not intimidating, Jimmy Kieffer) obtains some wildly colored new clothes —and a pig in lieu of a pirate-typical parrot— he starts to like his new look and new life.  Looking for a job, he peruses the want ads (“Village Idiot: Salary depends on experience”) and meets an unnamed Little Old Lady with a piping voice and perkiness (the splendidly delightful Carol Charniga).  Captain-less, the pirates wonder if they really have to continue to follow the pirate rules.  Could they travel to the beat of a different drum?  Do clothes make the man?  Must one dress drably and always be impolite?  (You’re not supposed to say thank-you when complimented; it goes against the mean image.)

Stage manager Samantha Tirrell has a lot to manage with the comings and goings of the ensemble and scene changes, and gets help from an assistant stage manager named Emily Musial.  The very able musical director is Barbara Musial.  Direction and cheery, lively, appropriate yet varied music are by Michael Musial.  Wait, I’m beginning to see a trend in these names.  Can we just insert the letter C between the U and the I in Musial?  The book and lyrics are credited to three guys: Matthew McElligott (author/illustrator of the children’s books that were the inspiration), plus Larry Tuxbury and Brian Sheldon.  All aboard the pirate ship for a wild ride!